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ON December 10, 2020, the Public Procurement Department of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), awarded N30 million controversial contract to EL-Shukhur Multi Buz Nigeria Limited.
The awarded contract was for the construction of a Friday Mosque at an undisclosed Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Borno State.
By May 2021, about five months later, an award letter for the contract leaked to the media and caused a public outcry.
Some Nigerians argued there are several IDPs in Borno, and other parts of Benue including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), thus, why single out the unknown IDP.
FMARD, however, justified awarding the contract.
“The construction of the mosque was a Special Request from the community through the Borno State Government to avoid moving too far from the settlement areas for prayers and also to ensure their safety and contact with the insurgents,” Director of Information, FMARD, Theodore Ogaziechi stated.
He stressed that the mosque was for livestock farmers displaced by the insurgents.
But findings by The ICIR have shown that the N30 million awarded contract was questionable, breaching the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007.
Federal Government contractors, consultants and service providers must register with BPP
The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) is the institution of government under the Presidency empowered by the Public Procurement Act (2007) to ensure transparency in government spending, especially as it relates to contract awards in Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).
A check through the database of registered contractors doing business with the Federal Government, and hosted on BPP’s portal revealed that Multi Buz Nigeria Limited was missing among other recognised service providers. The firm was not registered with the BPP.
The BPP contractors’ registration portal is part of initiatives developed to enhance service delivery, check procurement frauds and reduce other corrupt practices in public procurements.
It is part of global practices to promoting open governance in public procurements but the contracted firm was missing in the database.
Besides, the procurement act mandated contractors to satisfy some requirements before being awarded contracts.
These include a certificate of registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), proof of tax payment to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), compliance with the Nigeria Social Investment Trust Fund (NSITF) contribution, National Pension Certificate (Pencom), Industrial Training Funds (ITF) certificates, proof of experience of ability to execute the contract among others.
But firms with less than 15 personnel are excluded from submitting the Pencom certificate, as they are not required to pay pension contributions on behalf of their employees.
Also, those with less than five workers or less than N50 million annual turnover are excluded from submitting the ITF certificate.
Except for these two waivers – Pencom, ITF, the BPP warned that “any false declaration and submission could lead to prosecution, debarment, and disqualification for 10 years from public procurement in line with the provision of section 58 of PPA, 2007.”
Section 16 of the procurement act titled ‘fundamental principles for procurements’ clearly spells out these requirements.
“All bidders in addition to requirements contained in any solicitation documents shall: have fulfilled all its obligations to pay taxes, pensions, and social security contributions; not have any director who has been convicted in any country for any criminal offense relating to fraud or financial impropriety or criminal misrepresentation or falsification of facts relating to any matter,” Section 16 (6) (d) (e) of the act read.
Nevertheless, aside from the contractor’s CAC registration, there is no publicly verifiable evidence to validate its compliance with the NSITF contributions, Tax remittance, etc. Validating its compliance or otherwise would often reflect in the BPP’s portal once the firm’s name is subjected to a public search in the Bureau’s database.
This shortcoming casts more doubt on the contractor’s pre-qualification for the awarded contract. The company also lacks an active website that could provide details of its activities.
The ICIR searched for other companies that provide similar construction services including Julius Berger Plc and found them to be listed in the same database, with a pass mark of compliance with all requirements.
What we know about El-Shukur Multi Buz Nigeria Limited
El-Shukur Multi Buz Nigeria Limited was registered on September 3, 2008, with RC: 770543 and currently listed as inactive.
This occurs mostly when the firm fails to submit its annual reports to the CAC. It has 15 Murtala Mohammed Way, Bauchi, Bauchi state as its registered address, and is owned by Usman Hassan, Safiya Hassan, and Mohammed Usman – all directors of the company.
It has no clear objective as to the kind of service it provides if it is construction, information technology-related, or general supplier.
Further findings also showed that it has no active website. No post was ever made to the Facebook account opened in the company’s name. Its address on Facebook also contradicts the address on its CAC form uploaded online – N0. 15 Jahun Quarters, Bauchi state. The only mobile contact associated with the company, found on the internet-08060180796 was unreachable. The search result using the true caller software produced “Aliyu Abuja,” a name entirely different from the directors.
Contractor risks 10-year conviction
In April 2014, the former Attorney-General of the Federal and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke, during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration directed FG’s contractors, consultants, and service providers to register with the BPP before awarded contracts. Reports say only 1,495 contractors had complied with the new regulation as of the period.
As a result, the BPP threatened to bar unregistered contractors with a warning of 10 years conviction if defaulted.
“The contravener shall be tried at the Federal High Court, and the prosecuting authority is the honourable attorney general of the federation under section 58 (2 and 3) of the 2007 BPP Act,” Adoke stated.
Represented by a top official from the Office of the Solicitor General of the Federation Olushola Omoore, culpable firms would have their names listed in the database of firms and individuals barred from participating in public procurement deals with the federal government.
“Any natural person not being a public officer who contravenes any provision of this Act commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than 5 calendar years but not exceeding 10 calendar years without an option of fine,” he stated referencing Section 58 of the Act.
Meanwhile, while affirming the leaked document, Ogaziechi in his statement failed to mention the exact IDP camp the mosque was built. The ICIR enquired when this reporter visited his office but he could not state precisely where the mosque was built.
“I’m not saying anything further outside my press statement,” Ogaziechi reacted.
Corruption has become endemic in Nigeria, extending to virtually all spheres. On several occasions, the country has recorded abysmal scores on the Global Corruption Index, otherwise known as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). For instance, Nigeria ranked 149 from 180 nations in the latest CPI, placing Nigeria as the most corrupt country in West Africa, after Guinea Bissau. A non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mathew Page, in his 2018 paper – A New Taxonomy for Corruption in Nigeria, also recognised contract fraud as notable among six categories of corruption in the country.
Corruption is the single greatest obstacle preventing the country from achieving its full potential, he noted. “It drains billions of dollars a year from the country’s economy, stymies development, and weakens the social contract between the government and its people.”
“We find inexplicable the kind of arbitrariness and manifest unfairness that characterised the ministry’s decision in this regard. For one, there are thousands of displaced persons located in scores of Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDPs), particularly in the epicenters of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, and herdsmen/farmers clashes in the north. How then did the ministry arrive at the decision to single out one community for the construction of a worship centre and the provision of other infrastructural facilities? Again, is the construction of a worship centre not beyond the functional jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development?” the national daily posited.
Ministry flouts FOI Act
To examine the procurement process leading to the N30 million contract award, on May 31, The ICIR wrote a Freedom of Information request to the agric ministry.
This reporter had earlier traced the 2020 approved budget but the contract was not listed among projects for the year. The contract had no budget line in the approved budget.
Hence, the request for a complete bidding document of all firms that bided for the contract, terms of reference for the contract, contract status, proposed contract sum, the approved contract sum, location of the project, and source of funding to implementing the project.
The seven-day response time provided by the FOI Act elapsed but there was no response from the ministry.
The Act allows an extra seven days period after the initial seven days request. Thus, on June 16, more than seven days after, a reminder was sent to the ministry but the agric ministry still turned a deaf ear. Yet, both letters were stamped and acknowledged on May 31 and June 16, respectively.
At the second visit to the ministry, Ogaziechi later referred this reporter to Bail Godia, an official from the ministry’s Legal Department. The legal department could not provide a substantial reason why the FOI request was dishonoured, though acknowledged. So, also the reminder.
The ICIR sought to meet with the director of the legal department Justina Suwa. She pleaded for extra seven days. By this time, it was already more than 14 days stipulated in the Act, and extending to about 21 days.
She vowed to meet with the FMARD’s Director of Procurement to make the documents available. But as of the time of filing this report, no official response has come from the departments in the agric ministry. These, however, throws more doubt on the N30million controversial project.
“It is a criminal offense punishable on conviction by the Court with a minimum of 1-year imprisonment for any officer or head of any government or public institution to which this Act applies to wilfully destroy any records kept in his custody or attempt to doctor or otherwise alter same before they are released to any person, entity or community applying for it,” the FOI Act read.
Meanwhile, part of the FOI request was to establish where the ministry got funding to execute the purported project, and if it ever passed through due process.
The ICIR contacted BPP’s Head of Public Affairs Department Segun Simmons to further verify if an unregistered firm with the BPP could be awarded a contract, he faulted the move.
“It is null and void,” he responded in a text message.
Head of Public Enlightenment Department and Spokesperson at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Azuka Ogugua, promised to contact the procurement and operations department of the Commission and revert.
But she is yet to respond as of the time of filing this report.
Notwithstanding, the Commission had signed a partnership with the BPP to investigate and prosecute procurement frauds at the MDAs.
She told The ICIR that the Commission is always monitoring the procurement processes and those that deserve probes are subsequently investigated.